Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2005   by CARS Magazine

Smooth Sailing

Ron Outerbridge of the Maritime's Coast Tire & Auto Service keeps a steady course in uncertain seas.

It’s hard to avoid nautiacal metaphor when talking about the Maritimes. The sea dominates the tourist industry back east, but for Ron Outerbridge, president and CEO of Coast Tire & Auto Service, the slower pace of Atlantic coast life doesn’t mean a sluggish business.

“We offer full automotive services with fully licensed technicians in all our locations”, declares Outerbridge, who’s quick to point out that despite Coast Tire & Auto Service’s name and Goodyear affiliation, the firm is a full service retailer. “Whatever is wrong with your car, we can handle it.” Outerbridge, a relatively young 41as CEO of a $C50 million dollar business with 280 employees, has been in the business for 8 years. A buyout of the previous owner with Goodyear as minority partner landed Outerbridge “on the bridge” three years ago, and the ship is substantial. Coast, the largest Goodyear dealer in the Maritimes, has operations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, with 26 locations, 280 employees, a retread plant and head offices in Saint John. Is running a service business down East different form Central Canada? “The Maritimes is a traditional market, especially New Brunswick”, he declares, adding, “we’re not a densely populated area; it’s a rural way of life. Business here can still be done with a handshake. It’s all about relationships; everyone knows everyone. We don’t have the economic ‘ups and downs’ of Central Canada.” The economy is different and so are motorist’s driving habits, too. “Maritimers keep their vehicles longer and there aren’t as many high end vehicles. Our road system is good, but being a rural area, conditions are harsh on vehicles”, advises Outerbridge. “We have salt on out highways and long winters with lots of snow. With the exception of our only major metropolitan area, Halifax, it’s hard on vehicles. It means lots of repairs.”

The repairs are there to be performed, but operating in the east coast culture means maintaining basic values: It’s all about service and treating people honestly and fairly. If you don’t, everyone’s going to know pretty quickly. It’s a great marketplace. We spend a lot of time on customer satisfaction. We try to give them no reason to go somewhere else. Everyone says it, but we spend a lot of time to make it happen.”

The values are old-time, but the market is changing for Coast Tire & Auto Service as it is elsewhere in Canada, Outerbridge notes: “The industry’s changed so much in the last few years. It’s much more about preventative, maintenance these days; total car care. It’s the future of the industry. Five years ago, 70 percent of our sales were repairs and 30 percent maintenance. Now it’s the other was around, with 70 percent maintenance. Cars don’t break down the way they used to.” Coast Tire & Auto Service is not a small business, and Ron Outerbridge has taken the unusual (for the repair sector) step of ISO certifying Coast’s operation. While common among major manufacturers and transnational corporations, Outerbridge feels that ISO gives Coast an advantage. “We’re ISO certified on a commercial basis, and we’re working on ISO for all our retail locations as well. We want to be the best that we can be in any demonstrable way.”

In the end, it is about making money, and that’s an area where Outerbridge isdecidedly optimistic. “I think that there’s more opportunity now than there’s ever been, but all of us in this industry have to realize that to survive, we’re going to have to change the way we do business. I love it.”

About Coast Tire & Auto Service

Locations: 26, in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

Retreading plant, head office: Saint John, N.B.

Number of employees: 280

Annual Sales: C$ 50 Million

Services offered: mechanical repair, tires, retreading

About Ron Outerbridge

Age: 41

Married, 2 children

Years in Industry: 9

Years as owner CEO (with Goodyear): 3

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